Nothing in life has yet to touch me more profoundly than loving people who did not first love themselves.
And, looking back, I sometimes forget that not too long ago, I was one of those people.
Leaning into my discomforts through therapy and meditation was far from fun and games, but had I not pushed through, I’d probably need a few vices or prescriptions just to get by today.
The experience also opened my eyes to the importance of compassion and refraining from judgment. No matter how insensitive someone was to others, or to me, I’d try to understand the reasons behind their actions.
If they’re hurting another, they were probably hurting inside.
So I’d make excuses for them…and I would forgive.
But a straw recently broke this camel’s back.
I have loved one too many people who have suffered; one too many whose painful past continues to haunt their present and trace their future. My reserves of acceptance for putting up with some people’s lack of responsibility toward themselves and, consequently, toward others, are seriously running low.
Now, it would be one thing if their actions and behaviors were only affecting the adults around them, but my issue with it is this: when these people have kids, they are passing on one seriously fucked-up inheritance.
Even if it hasn’t been your personal experience (because there are some truly wonderful parents out there), I’m sure you can think of one person or another who’s carrying around some extra-heavy baggage.
We can do serious psychological damage to our children if they are not raised with deliberate awareness. Indeed, some of us know far too well the sting of parents who ignored, betrayed, abandoned or abused us. Too many of us can think of ways in which we’ve been hurt by those who were supposed to take care of us when we couldn’t take care of ourselves—those who were supposed to love us.
We all know not everyone is fit to be a parent. But, when it comes to having our own children, how many of us ask ourselves: Am I emotionally, spiritually and financially ready, willing and able to nurture a new spirit into this world?
There’s a reason it’s not exactly popular dinner table conversation.
But, if we aren’t willing to look at ourselves and ask a few uncomfortable questions, are we seriously ready to take on the life and emotional sphere of a whole other and entirely dependent being?
Having a baby isn’t just having a baby: it’s having a person. A person who will one day be 30, living in the world that we have left behind for him or her.
Of course, a large part of the appeal of starting a family is that it can allow us to create for others the youth we would have wanted for ourselves. But, there can also be an unconscious desire to suture up a few wounds from our own past. And that’s where it gets tricky.
Isn’t it dangerous to believe that the trying pressures of parenthood will somehow enable us to work through the disappointments of our own childhood in a constructive manner?
While learning from our parents’ mistakes is important, making our own decisions and becoming responsible for ourselves for others sake is as well. And using the inadequacies of others as an excuse or as justification for our own harmful conduct has an expiration date.
I can only imagine that parents who love their children, or who have set very high standards for themselves, feel inadequate or helpless from time to time, like they have failed. But there are also parents who’ve told their children they’re a waste of space.
Abuse and neglect isn’t always physical. It can be emotional, too. And, often, the subtle stuff is hardest to get over, because we can’t always put our finger on exactly what it is that scarred us.
This isn’t about baby books. This is about making a difference in our chapter of humanity.
On a spiritual level, we are responsible for nurturing the soul of a child and for offering protection and guidance.
Some people don’t allow their children the emotional space to be angry or upset with them. Some treat them as personal property, constantly yell at them instead of explaining things calmly. Some barely acknowledge their kids at all, or seem to prefer one over the other. Some never hug or embrace their child, or never say I love you.
How is that supposed to leave anyone feeling good enough, worthy enough?
There are also people who discipline their kids with fear, so that they won’t be defied. But, what they seem to forget is that, people, whether they are young or old, will only truly respect you if you show them respect as well. And raising an arm or a voice, implying (or following through) with a threat, will silence—and in some cases, destroy—the spirit of a child.
How is a person supposed to learn to love themselves when the people from whom they are measuring their self-worth are causing them harm?
These emotional blows, big or small, are never truly forgotten. They’re boxed up or shut up and left to fester in a bag that we drag behind us our whole lives…and eventually, they start to seep out.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting children. I mean, I myself wouldn’t want to miss out on what I’ve been told is a magical and unparalleled experience. Plus, the innate urge to procreate is part of the reason we’re all still here.
But, while our intentions might be completely honorable, an important notion seems to have slipped between the cracks: a little soul did not come knocking on our door and ask us to have sex so that it could be born.
Having a child is the result of our choice. And our choice only.
Now, I’m not interested in taking sides on the whole abortion debacle. I respect that people have different beliefs and point of views. But, what I do know is that if an egg is fertilized and we had something to do with it, or even if we choose to adopt, we are entirely responsible for any third party that comes into the world as a result.
And since our outlooks, rationalizations and behaviors as adults often stem from the experiences of our childhood, it seems to me that, if we choose to bring kids into this world, we are forever indebted to them, to remain aware and conscious of ourselves, every step of the way.
So, what can we ask of ourselves? How can we break the pattern that seems to repeat itself, generation after generation, day after day?
Someone important to me once said:
I always thought that strength and fragility were like oil and water. But I now understand that fragility isn’t weakness; it’s simply allowing yourself to feel. If you don’t embrace both, you’ll never experience true peace. And you’ll just keep hurting everyone around you.
We need to put the idea that pain is shameful to the side. To find the courage to talk. Open up. Seek help to understand what we’ve been through so we can better understand where we’re going. And encourage each other to practice radical self-love and compassion, because we cannot give to others what we do not first learn to give ourselves. It’s not a matter of being selfish; it’s a matter of putting your on own oxygen mask first—so that you can get your kid out of the plane.
In this world that’s moving ahead so fast, without really going anywhere at all, maybe we could all stop for a second and ask ourselves a simple question: Could I put off having kids, until I figure myself out?
Or, more importantly: Maybe I shouldn’t have kids to try to fill some void or create a picture in a frame, to feel better about the life I wish I’d had myself…
And if it all boils down to one thing, it’s this: Maybe, in the same way that some take vows in marriage, we should also make vows to our future children as they come to be.
And perhaps they could go something like this:
I brought you into this world.
There are times when I won’t be able to give you what you need, and I apologize in advance. But I hope that I can give you all the love, care and attention you’ll need, and that I will have the presence of mind to be aware in those moments when I need to step up my game.
It will never be my intention to hurt you, but if my behavior’s disappointing, I promise to listen and sit down with you, and find the courage to share, because I, too, am sometimes flawed.
I promise that I will give you the best of who I am, and that I will weather all storms with you. I promise that I will listen to all things, big and small, because what seems small or insignificant in my eyes might be big and important in yours. I promise to try to give you healthy and loving examples of love, by respecting myself and others.
I promise I won’t lie or hide things from you. I promise to protect you. I will try to be a good role model and moral compass. I will try to remember what it’s like to be young. I promise that I will always try to remain aware of myself and others. I will try to share my joys and relish in yours. I promise not to burden you with my problems, and to nurture you both as a person and as a soul.
I promise to honor and try to understand your choices, even if they wouldn’t be my own, and to have faith in you and to try to be your guiding light. I promise that I will always make time to play with you and to be your biggest fan. I promise to give you a leg up when you need it and to let go when it’s time. To always be by your side, even if we’re far apart.
And, most of all, I promise to love myself, so that I can love you better, and more and more each day.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Lara B.
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Robert Frieberger/Flickr